Leaky gut syndrome is a condition where the intestinal lining is more permeable than normal, possibly leading to a variety of health issues including allergies.
A healthy intestinal lining allows nutrients and minerals to pass from the intestine into the bloodstream. This is how we absorb energy and required nutrients from digested food. The wall of the intestine is like a filter, allowing smaller molecules to pass through but preventing ‘macro-molecules’ from passing through. One could describe it as a ‘somewhat leaky barrier’ – which is a good thing. However, if it becomes too leaky, it can allow larger than normal particles to pass thorough, such as undigested food particles, toxins, pathogens etc.While an overly leaky gut is recognized by medical science, the potential results (allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease etc.) are not universally recognized as the results of this condition.
The intestine is made of cells that seal to one another in a “tight junction” arrangement. Villi at the tips of these cells absorb desired nutrients into the bloodstream, and the tight junctions keep everything else out.
You can think of leaky gut syndrome as some of the tight junctions becoming loose. Tiny gaps between cells allow unfiltered molecules and tiny particles of undigested food, yeast, bacteria etc into the bloodstream.
While little is actually known about this process, it is assumed that these foreign objects in the bloodstream trigger the immune system to attack them, and in the process causing a whole host of problems for the body, including:
- Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Allergies (e.g. wheat allergy, gluten allergy)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Atopic eczema
This wide range of symptoms, which could easily be caused by so many other factors, makes leaky gut syndrome hard to diagnose.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Autism
According to a study by the Second University of Naples, 36.7% of patients with autism have higher than normal intestinal permeability (IPT, or leaky gut syndrome) compared to those without autism and who are not relatives of someone with autism. In the later case, 4.8% of subjects had a “leakier gut” than normal. 21% of close relatives to people with autism had a leaky gut. It is worth taking a second look at causes and symptoms if you know any autistic people. One can imagine that if you feed the whole family poorly or expose them to toxins, the chances are some will have a leaky gut, and some of those may become autistic.
The same study noted that autistics on a reported gluten-casein-free diet had “significantly lower” leak factor in their gut than those on an unrestricted diet. The study concludes that for autistics with high gut permeability values, a gluten-free diet will likely be helpful.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Causes
Leaky gut syndrome may be caused by the following, although there is probably not enough research to confirm this list, and it may not be complete:
- Toxins including chemotherapy
- Poor diet
- Infection (e.g. a yeast infection or Candida)
- Zinc deficiency
- Non-steroidal and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Food sensitivities
- Excessive alcohol
- Excessive sugar
It is worth noting that some items on the above list, such as food sensitivities, may be caused by leaky gut syndrome, or be the cause, it is hard to be sure.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Tests
Several clinical diagnostic tests exist to measure how leaky the gut is. One test has the patent can ingest certain types of chemicals and then the urine analyzed after some time to see how much they were absorbed.
Another test measures how lipopolysaccharide, a large and complicated molecule also known as LPS, crosses the gut wall.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Treatment
It seems that definitive treatments have yet to be developed, although several are recommended.
Taking natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative supplements, such as glutamine, N-acetyl cysteine and zinc, along with with a “leaky gut diet”, prebiotics and the use of probiotics is one method. Taking herbs containing berberine is a traditional treatment for “stomach problems”, and studies show that berberine helps reverse tight junction damage.
What is your experience with leaky gut syndrome? Please leave a comment with your questions, comments and experiences.
- Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives